PFF Preview: Saints @ Buccaneers, Week 17
The 2014 season draws to a close for the New Orleans Saints as they travel east to take on the Buccaneers in a game that could have been meaningful had New Orleans claimed a win last week against Atlanta. Instead, the Saints will look back at 2014 as a lost opportunity, and now must start making plans to squeeze back under the cap in 2015 and beyond.
One big reason for the Saints’ lack of success was its secondary, headlined by second-year safety Kenny Vaccaro. The Texas product struggled to improve on a strong rookie season, and those alongside him failed to impress as well. High-priced free agent Jairus Byrd went down after a quarter-season’s worth of work, Corey White and Patrick Robinson took their share of lumps in coverage, and even Keenan Lewis had a down year by his standards.
They won’t face their stiffest test of the season when they visit Josh McCown, but his playmakers at wide receiver can match up with anyone. Rookie Mike Evans had a fantastic midseason stretch where he entrenched himself as one of 2014’s top deep threats, and while he hasn’t been quite as prolific since, he still slots in at third with 575 yards on deep passes. While not as flashy as his first-year teammate, Vincent Jackson is 9 receiving yards from his fourth straight 1,000-yard campaign.
Neither team will be playing their way into action next week, but each coaching staff will undoubtedly want to finish with a divisional win as they look forward into 2015.
New Orleans Saints
Zach Strief – The Saints’ perennially underrated right tackle has allowed Drew Brees to hit the turf just nine times all year (three sacks and six hits) and hasn’t committed a penalty since Week 2. Without a major pass rusher on Strief’s side, he’s set up to have another solid day in pass protection.
Jimmy Graham – Graham’s been on a bit of a cold streak, with just one game over 60 yards in the last six weeks and six dropped passes over that span. Even so, his 10 touchdowns this year are fourth at the position, as are his 79 receptions and 112 targets.
Junior Galette – While the defense as a whole has underachieved, the ever-steady Galette has not. Though he was blanked as a pass rusher last week, he has at least four pressures in each of the previous seven games.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lavonte David – David leads the Bucs with 72 defensive stops, nearly double that of his next closest teammate (the 38 of Danny Lansanah). His Run Stop Percentage of 13.6 is second best in the league among 4-3 outside linebackers.
Alterraun Verner – Not all of Tampa’s recent free agents have hit the mark, but Verner has been a solid performer. The former Titan has allowed 140 receiving yards on 168 coverage snaps over the last five games, with his 90-yard outing against the Packers the only game in that time over 20 yards.
Logan Mankins – Never a top-tier pass blocker, Mankins accounted for that in the past with some excellent run blocking. This year he’s needed some time to gel with the line, though his +4.4 run blocking grade is a good mark nonetheless.
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